Johanna Konta just reached the semi final of the Australian Open. Having ranked outside the world top 30 before the tournament, this surprise success went on to become the first British woman to reach a tournament semi-final for 33 years, beating Venus Williams along the way. Though she was beaten in two sets by the eventual champion, Angelique Kerber, this 24 year old newcomer to the top 30 has caused quite the stir among tennis fans and the media alike. Everyone’s asking the same question: could she be the one? Are we finally going to have a British woman in top-level tennis since Virginia Wade’s success in the 1970s?
Hold on a second. Konta only moved into the top 50 at the end of 2015. At the start of 2016, just before her Australian Open success, she was eliminated in the first roundat the Shenzhen Open and Hobart International. Nobody can deny the scale of her recent achievement, but whether it promises long-term success is still a serious question.
Tennis has always had potential for shock results. It’s one-on-one, so a player having one off-day makes the possibility of an upset all the more likely. Those pinning the hopes of a new generation of British tennis players on Konta should remember that this might be one such freak result. Her recent successes are certainly not in keeping with her usual results.
The problem is that almost everyone wants Konta to be the one – they want us to have found the new shining light for British women’s tennis. And who can blame them? If a British competitor can consistently challenge at the latter end of major singles tournaments, it could transform the image of British tennis the world over. But most importantly, the emergence of a female talisman in a popular sport, with regular media coverage, could have a sigificant impact on gender equality in tennis.
Ayres agrees, citing the potential impact on young women hoping to follow in her footsteps: “This is great for the British junior girls. For a while now, British boys have been able to watch and idolise Andy Murray. To not have any British women on that level has no doubt been a factor in the drop in participation of junior girls in tennis.”
It’s dangerous to pin the hopes of a generation on one player. But there’s no doubt that she has serious potential. If she can maintain this level of performance consistently, British tennis might be well on its way to redressing the gender gap.
Let’s not judge her too quickly, however. She remains a symbol of hope for now – it’s how she follows up that will make the real difference.